Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Mark Hector

Committee Members

Kathy Davis, Wes Morgan, Brian Barber


This project provided a description of the experience of physical affection as remembered from childhood. In-depth, non-directive interviews were conducted with 21 adult participants who were asked to describe their experiences of receiving physical affection from their parents during childhood. The raw data consisted of transcriptions of the interviews, and a method informed by phenomenology and hermeneutics for the purpose of describing the thematic structure of the experience was employed.

The ground of Being Loved provided the context upon which three themes became figural. It included the awareness of feelings that participants experienced, such as love, security, being cared for, warmth, and so forth, as a benefit of physical affection.

The first theme, From Whom the Physical Affection Was Received, included descriptions of those giving the physical affection to the participant. The two sub-themes included physical affection from Parents and physical affection from Grandparents. The descriptions of physical affection from parents typically included a comparison between the mother and father ( or stepfather). The second theme, Acts That Demonstrate Physical Affection, captured the participant's awareness of the acts of touching behavior directed toward them by their parents which were experienced as physical affection. The participants described a range of behaviors that were experienced as physical affection and included the following sub-themes: Kissing, Hugging, Holding Hands, and Holding, Snuggling/Cuddling, Rocking. The third theme, Non-Physical Expressions of Affection, captured the participant's awareness of non-touching behavior directed toward them by their parents that was nevertheless experienced as a part of the experience of physical affection. The theme of Non-Physical Expressions of Affection included the sub-themes of Verbal Affection and Play, Sports, Bedtime Routines, and Other Activities. In addition to the ground and three themes, there were two topics that sometimes emerged as participants described the experience of physical affection. First, punishment was described by the participants as either an awareness that punishment was often followed by physical affection or an awareness that punishment was a part of physical affection as a demonstration of caring. Second, change in the experience of physical affection over time, reflected the participants' awareness of the way in which physical affection changed during the period of adolescence as a result of the participants' growing autonomy from their parents.

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